Category of Dignity in the Memoirs of Petrashevsky Circle Members

Analysis of “dignity” category in the discourse of “first Russian socialists” was performed based on the semiotic research of the behaviour of Petrashevsky Circle members (or “petrashevtsy”). For the past decades this material, interpreted in Soviet historic and philological science in a peculiar way, hasn’t been a research subject. This significant social and philosophical field that allows to reassess the discourse of opposition in the 1840s, requires new approaches.

It is commonly known that the majority of convicted Petrashevsky circle members or those connected to the investigation of M.V. Butashevich-Petrashevsky were giving their memoirs an axiological scope. Russian fourierists also known as poor idealists (A. Palm), honest dreamers (I.Venediktov), the desolate, buried alive in a gloomy grave (I. Yastrzhembsky), who were at the same time hoping for an honest and brave voice to find a way to the Tzar’s heart (Ibid), are presented as victims who on multiple occasions were emphasizing the importance of universal human values and civil maxims (including dignity). At the same time the majority of Circle members declared that they wouldn’t follow any independent political programme; many of them paid special attention to criticizing Fourier’s theories, and described the disputes that occurred at Petrashevsky’s meeting in a mocking and satirical manner.

Establishment of concepts of dignity, operator and shift words organizing the sphere of public and private communication can be observed in the drafts, notes and memoirs of “petrashevtsy.” The performed analysis demonstrates that so-called “idea conspiracy” lacked a denotative core.

By matching the definition of dignity from Petrashevsky’s dictionary with formulas of other members of the circle, the researcher comes to the conclusion about non-existence of unified ideological platform. Central episode, best-known as a part of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s biography — reading of the famous letter of Vissarion Belinsky — allows to illustrate this hypothesis with the analysis of individual interpretations and renditions of this document that became a “mediator” of Russian opposition in the 1840s.